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It is time for a Russian reset

The Russian soldiers are exhausted, demoralised and will not have the stomach to carry on. Open desertion may follow.

VINOD SAIGHAL |

In another fortnight Russia would have captured both the provinces of Donbas that it had set out to do as its stated aim. Like in the case of Mariupol, it was a grind lasting months in spite of the overwhelming fire power the Russians possess. Exhaustion had set in and the casualties on both sides were heavy.Where does a triumphant Russia go from here? Attack the Black Sea ports with further destruction of cities reducing much of them to rubble and then moving in to capture them?

No matter how one-sided the punishment Russians deliver, further fighting as in the case of Mariupol lasting over hundred days to physically capture cities is beyond their capability. The Russian soldiers are exhausted, demoralised and will not have the stomach to carry on. Open desertion may follow.

Nato secretary general Stoltenberg has stated that fighting could continue for years. It smacks of defeatism, pessimism and hopelessness. It is not likely to be the case. Russia simply does not have sufficient motivated reserves to carry on much longer. Nor can the nation live with a protracted war, just as Ukraine and its Western allies cannot do so. Economic ruin has already set in. At this point in time, Russia holds most of the cards. Ukraine is almost nil in military might. However its will and resolve not to give an inch of more territory will make Russia rethink offensives west of the line it has already captured. Ukraine’s back is against the wall. Should sufficient military support and financing come in, its modified aims are likely to be punishing Donbass with the type of aerial bombing that Russia has visited on Ukrainian cities. It has the option of investing Mariupol and Kherson among other targets.

The West would like to keep the Ukrainians fighting Russians to physical and mental exhaustion. It is time for Russia to declare victory and announce an unilateral ceasefire on an as is, where is basis. For the ceasefire to have a chance of acceptance, President Zelensky, seeing the state of exhaustion of his military, might not to be in a position to reject it outright. Concessions that Russia makes to strengthen its position and generally find acceptance around the world should include, inter alia, no further bombing of Ukrainian cities and assets beyond the line captured; a pull-back of all Russian troops beyond that line; Mariupol under Russian control to be declared an open city for free movement of commerce by both sides; no further blockades of Ukrainian Black Sea ports so that shipments of grain and other commodities can commence unhindered; release of Ukrainian grain assets as well as confiscated agricultural equipment, and other concession of a similar nature that would oblige Ukrainians to honour the ceasefire on the ground regardless of the President’s rhetoric and fulminations against Russia.

The West has a lot at stake to ensure that the ceasefire is accepted unreservedly. Russia spanning 16 times zones and the need for protecting its other frontiers does not have the demographic base to continue the war. As an example, China will forever be eyeing Siberia. Last but not least accolades will pour in from the UN and all those countries where continued starvation had threatened their existence. The West may not immediately lift economic sanctions. But their rigour will automatically be diluted. At the global stage there is urgent need to bring Russia back into the fold with additional security guaranties for mutual and equal security all round.

The West should aim for a reset with Russia. For this to be meaningful, it should straightaway put Nato expansion in cold storage. Ukraine, Finland and Sweden should be taken off the table. Confidence building measures in Europe should gather pace. Russia was provoked into attacking Ukraine. It needs to be reassured. Talks between the N5 must commence to freeze and then reduce their nuclear stockpiles. The fury of climate change has overtaken the world. Reducing expenditure on armaments and reallocating resources for tackling the warming of the planet could go some way in coping with the catastrophe that is upon the world. Being welcome by both sides, India can take the lead in bringing about the end of hostilities. It can also provide peacekeepers to monitor the ceasefire.